February 19, 2004

Prof. in Sierra Club Fray

Print More

Prof. David Pimental, entomology, is one of three controversial candidates in the Sierra Club’s campaign for seats on its board of directors. Pimental, Richard Lamm, former Democratic governor of Colorado, and Frank Morris, retired foreign service officer, are worrying many with their plans to have the Sierra Club, the oldest environmental group in the United States, encourage lower U.S. immigration levels.

Sierra Club leaders say that such a policy would be racially divisive and could harm the Club’s credibility, membership, and relations with minorities. The current board of directors voted in late January to add a statement to the 750,000 election ballots that will soon go out, regarding the sudden activity of extremist and outsider groups in relation to this year’s board elections.

Though some of the board members do support Pimental, Lamm and Morris, the statement tells members that, “this year there is an unprecedented level of outside involvement and attention to the club’s board of directors election.” The statement also reads that “Candidates, some of whom have been members of the club for some time, and some of whom joined the club apparently for the purpose of running for the board, have been promoted by outside non-environmental organizations.”

The outside groups are listed as including the Center for American Unity, Federation of American Immigration Reform, National Alliance, National Immigration Alert, Overthrow.com, Social Contract Press, and White Politics, Inc. (publisher of Overthrow.com), as well as Virginia Dare, also known as VDare, named after the first white child supposedly born in colonial America.

Fur Commission USA and the Southern Poverty Law Center are also listed as having expressed interest in the elections, but do not hover between “right-wing immigration reform organizations and racist, nativist hate groups,” as the Southern Poverty Law Center says the other groups do, according to the press release.

Racist Supporters

“I don’t think that Pimental, Lamm, and Morris are racists,” Carl Pope, executive director of the club, told the Los Angeles Times. “But they are clearly being supported by racists.”

Many in the Sierra Club are very upset at the prospect of a “takeover” by candidates whose views on immigration are “almost identical to positions espoused by right-wing immigration activists or white supremacists.”

11 former Sierra Club presidents even issued a joint statement criticizing the standing of the candidates, who reject the charges.

The issue that Sierra Club leaders are most upset about, though, is not merely the idea that curbing immigration would reduce pressures on the environment and the economy. More alarming to them is the fact that right-wing websites, including some with nativist pro-white views, have stepped up to the plate and are urging their readers to join the Sierra Club to be able to vote for the immigration-reform candidates.

Morris Dees, executive director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, decided to run for the board to get the word out about the possibility that immigration reformers could make up a majority of the board.

“I am not asking that you vote for me,” he said in his ballot statement. “Instead I am running to urge that you vote against the ‘greening of hate.’ Please save the Sierra Club from a takeover by the radical right.”

The Sierra Club has had a population policy for decades, supporting both population stabilization and immigration reform until 1996. In 1997 the emphasis of the policy shifted, supporting efforts to bring family planning to the developing world. Along with improving the status of women and local living standards, this is thought to reduce birth rates and reduce pressure to emigrate.

The press release reports a recent article by Pimental, “Rapid Population Growth in California: A Threat to Land and Food Production,” as stating that California’s unusually high population growth rate is “generated primarily by the high immigration rate, both legal and illegal.”

Though he reportedly did not respond to a request for an interview for the press release, Pimental said he was happy to answer questions for The Sun. With regards to immigration, he stated, “I remain neutral on immigration because I have not studied the problem. However, I do favor the Sierra Club’s position that the U.S. should reduce its population.”

Actions being taken against the possibility of a “takeover” include the creation of Groundswell Sierra, at www.groundswellsierra.org. With Lawrence Downing, former Sierra Club president, as spokesperson, the organization Groundswell Sierra is leading the opposition to immigration-reform candidates.

Many members of the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC), as well, are opposed to the anti-immigration slate of outside candidates. Some SSC activists have sent out e-mails alerting others to the current situation, and urging people to vote in the election.

“Because turnout in Sierra Club board elections is usually very low, anti-immigration activists could swing this election unless more of our members vote when ballots are mailed to them in March,” one SSC activist, Nathan Wyeth of Columbia University, wrote. “Simply informing members and asking them to vote in the board of directors elections is the most important thing we can do.”

Sierra Club members should receive ballots for the board of directors election in March. If elected to the Sierra Club board, Pimental would continue to work at Cornell during his term on the board.

Archived article by Lauryn Slotnick